Sunday, 1 September 2019
Indeed the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. James 5:4
James, still speaking to the rich, now directs his words to their ill-treatment of others, beginning with those who are in their employ. They obviously treat their workers unfairly as is evidenced beginning with the words, “Indeed the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields.”
These are people within the employ of the rich. The word “wages” implies one who is hired, not a slave. An agreement for payment for a certain type or amount of work has been made. In this case, it is for those who mow. The word is found only here in Scripture, amaó. It means, to mow or reap.
Next, the word translated as “fields” is not the usual one. It is a common word, but it usually refers to a country. In this sense, it is a larger area than a normal field. It is only used two other times in this fashion. One of those two times, it also speaks of the fields of a rich man –
“Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: ‘The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully.’” Luke 12:16
James notes that the rich man has large swaths of land and he has hired laborers out to tend to them. However, referring to the wages he owes, James says, “which you have kept back by fraud.” The word used signifies to defraud another. The rich man may have changed the conditions which had originally been agreed upon, he may have claimed payment was made when it wasn’t, he may have claimed the job wasn’t performed as required even when it was, or he may have simply withheld payment because he figured he could get away with it. Whatever the reason, the laborer has been denied his rightfully due wages.
James says that these wages “cry out.” The word is krazó. It is an onomatopoetic expression where a natural sound which is heard reflects the sound of the word itself. It is derived from the raven’s cry which pierces the air, and thus it signifies a loud shriek which uses inarticulate sounds of deeply-affected emotions. The wages themselves are personified as they cry out to heaven for justice.
James then says that “the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth.” A different word for “cries” is seen only here in the Bible, boé. Again, it is an onomatopoetic expression. It signifies visceral sounds of concentrated exclamations. The cries of the workers are a heartfelt and expressive petition for relief. They are so pained that the Lord of Sabaoth becomes attentive to them.
This is a title for the Lord found only here and in Romans 9:29. In Romans, Paul is citing the Old Testament book of Isaiah. Here, James simply uses the word without citation. The title “Sabaoth” is derived from the Hebrew word tsaba, meaning war, warfare, or army. In this form then, it signifies “the Lord of Hosts.” He is the Commander of the armies of heaven, and his ears have heard what the rich man has done. Can anyone imagine He will shut his hearing to such cries?
Life application: James lived in a time when almost all work was physical, and a large percentage of that was agrarian. In fact, throughout its pages, the Bible deals with agricultural themes to make spiritual applications. When Jesus speaks of the wheat harvest, He is referring to the harvest of human souls prepared for the kingdom. When we read of the grape harvest, it is referring to God’s wrath being poured out on His enemies as He stomps them in His fury.
This verse in James is not necessarily spiritual in nature, and we need to be careful not to over-spiritualize every verse. Rather, James is following along in the same line he has spoken of for the past few verses – greed. Instead of paying the workers their wages, the wealthy were holding onto their money longer than necessary. Perhaps they were saying to the workers, “I’ll pay you when you finish the job.” However, just like today, the common people relied on having their pay immediately. To withhold the day’s wages was to deprive them of their evening meal.
Imagine if your boss originally promised to give you a paycheck each Friday. Later, however, he arbitrarily changed that to bi-weekly. At the end of the second week, he comes again and says, “I’m going to give you one big check at the end of the month.” You would rightfully be very upset as you agreed to work for a weekly paycheck. James says that conducting affairs in such a manner is sin. If you are in a position of handling other people’s pay, make sure you deal fairly with them, lest you be found a sinner as well. Though under the Law of Moses, the following words reflect a precept which should be remembered by all –
“You shall not oppress a hired servant who is poor and needy, whether one of your brethren or one of the aliens who is in your land within your gates. 15 Each day you shall give him his wages, and not let the sun go down on it, for he is poor and has set his heart on it; lest he cry out against you to the Lord, and it be sin to you.” Deuteronomy 24:14, 15
Heavenly Father, it is wonderful to read Your word and to see how tenderly You care for Your people. Give us hearts to care for others even as You do, and keep us from the sin of greed. May we never act deceitfully toward others over money, and may we especially be generous to share Your word with others – Your precious word of life. Amen.